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75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book we all must read
I've read most of the recent books about North Korea; both those by scholars and those by escapees. This one, written by a journalist, Blaine Harden, is excellent. It brings to life the terrible reality of life in one of North Korea's many Gulags that exist today. And, what is even more shocking, it reveals the life of a young man actually born inside the Gulag who...
Published on 10 Mar 2012 by CJ Craig

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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There are much better books on North Korea
I was very keen to read this book, as the story is unique - the tale of a man born inside a North Korean labour camp, as opposed to being sent there, who then successfully escaped. However, I was disappointed. The author stresses how he interviewed the subject for many, many hours - and yet the story is so thin, padded out with context taken from other books on the...
Published 23 months ago by Mendoza


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75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book we all must read, 10 Mar 2012
By 
CJ Craig (UK) - See all my reviews
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I've read most of the recent books about North Korea; both those by scholars and those by escapees. This one, written by a journalist, Blaine Harden, is excellent. It brings to life the terrible reality of life in one of North Korea's many Gulags that exist today. And, what is even more shocking, it reveals the life of a young man actually born inside the Gulag who lived the first twenty-six years within a prison. His story makes compelling reading if only because it is a modern-day horror story the world seems unwilling to hear. After sixty years of this totally repressive regime North Korea is now home to several generations of starving, psychologically maladjusted and physically weakened people. Is it any wonder that neither South Korea nor China wants the regime to collapse? The few that have escaped to South Korea and who remain there or move on to another country, such as the United States are totally unprepared to live in our contemporary world and find the adjustment process extremely difficult. Surely this tale of a young man who has endured what few of us can even begin to imagine will urge our politicians that much more must be done to deal with this tragic country. The damage done to the North Koreans is almost worse than anywhere else on earth simply because the situation is so unknown by the outside world. Why do so few care about North Korea? Why is there no urgency in our petitions to politicians and NGOs over the on-going situation in North Korea? I can only hope that more and more people will read this book and be moved to do something to address this terrible situation.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pulls No Punches, 15 Mar 2012
By 
Gregory Shanley (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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"Escape From Camp 14:One Man's Remarkable Oyssey from North Korea To Freedom In The West" is a harrowing real life
story about the "life" of Shin Dong-Hyuak,born in a North Korean prison camp and to say life,there is inhuman is a gross understatment.

The author,Blaine Harden is very honest,this isn't escape,then life is wonderful type of book,Harden is honest that Shin had struggled with freedom since escaping to the West but when one reads about a life of beatings,murders,rape and "snitching" to survive or to gain extra food,to prevent starvation,life where people are treated like human beings,must be like an alien world to Shin.

I found myself feeling ashamed that North Korea,is really only talked about in the West,when they do a nuclear test or some other type of saber waving,the really depressing thing is human rights are still being abused there,at this moment in time.

The one thing I hope more than anything is that Shin's story helps increase the pressure,on North Korea,to radically improve their human rights,or,at the very least,to give them even more bad press coverage in the world.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, 27 Mar 2012
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Sam M (England) - See all my reviews
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When I started this book I was completely naive to the realities of life in North Korea. This book is a great escape story but most of all a well researched and verified account of the horrors of being a political prisoner in North Korea. I naively though the world had no concentration camps and that mass imprisonment of children for the perceived sins of their parents was only the stuff of Hitler. It is a compelling and disturbing read that leaves you feeling both guilty and lucky to have been born in a free country. I read this book in three sittings and it splits into 3 clear sections, life in camp14, the escape and adjusting to the world.
Each section is excellently written, it is not sensationalist or gory, just matter of fact, leaving to the readers imagination the extent of the horror. Despite the ordeals the subject suffers, it is a good story that keeps you turning the pages and I did enjoy the journey. I finished the book feeling both saddened and angry that such things happen with our knowledge and we are powerless to intervene.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Painful story, told in a very human way, 24 May 2012
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matigrebooks "matigrebooks" (London) - See all my reviews
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This is a very harrowing book that describes 'life,' if it can be called that, inside one of the most notorious prison camps in North Korea. Similar in style to the Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, which I had read previously - but even more brutal in description of the feelings, lack of emotions and the indifference to camp 'life.' Shin Dong-Hyuak's life is also covered post- escape from North Korea, which very few of these books do - and explains the massive transition that it takes to remove oneself from such totalitarian control. I am a massive reader on North Korea and Barbara Demnick's recent Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea would be perfect to read alongside or subsequently to this book - due to the sheer madness of what happens in North Korea outside of the prison camps. Given this context, the brutality of Shin Dong-Hyuak's experience and the torment of normal civilian life in North Korea really will start to shape an idea of what life must be like in the Hermit Kingdom. Shin Dong-Hyuak's in the U.S. is also covered, with plain explanations that everything did not go to plan and transition was almost impossible, due to the horrific experience that Shin Dong-Hyuak underwent. I felt that this 'not so rosy' ending but a possibility of happiness in the future was very honest of the author to contextualise the likely experience of most escapees lives in South Korea.

A brutal, horrifying book - but one that seeks to expose the lack of humanity inherent in NK's regime.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We take so very much for granted..., 23 Feb 2012
By 
Sam Woodward (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is based upon an advance proof copy. It came with a letter from the publisher stating that it was "written before the [North Korean] succession crisis & has not been updated. The book published on 29th March will have been updated by the author."

The letter also says that "this is possibly the most extraordinary story of one mans' life you will ever read." It certainly represents a staggering achievement - Shin Dong-hyuk was bred in a North Korean prison camp & yet knowing no other world, was miraculously able to escape to Seoul & tell the tale. I say he was 'bred' because his parents were brought together in an authorised coupling by prison guards, as a reward for hard work & loyalty. This rare practice (only open to model inmates in their mid-20's or older) meant they could initially spend 5 nights together & then another 5 nights spread throughout the year. The alternatives were strictly forbidden - camp rules state that "should sexual physical contact occur without prior approval, the perpetrators will be shot immediately". Thus Shin was raised in the camp - his only crime was simply to be born to the wrong parents, as Kim Il-Sung had decreed that if one parent went bad, the next two generations must be 'purified' as well.

This is just one example of the astonishing levels of oppression which the prisoners of Camp 14 endure. While many earlier books on North Korea (such as Barbara Demick's highly recommended Nothing to Envy) paint a chilling portrait of life for ordinary citizens in this police state, Shin's story is even worse. Once he escaped to a nearby town, "it shocked him to see North Koreans going about their daily lives without having to take orders from guards. When they had the temerity to ... wear brightly coloured clothes or haggle over prices in an open-air market, he expected armed men to step in, knock heads, and stop the nonsense." The details of how he was able to get out of the country also indicates the chilling extent of the poverty & deprivation that have blighted North Korea & (luckily for Shin) undermined its regime.

While author Blaine Harden includes other sources to back up many of Shin's claims, most of them are of course unverifiable. Getting any information about this secretive state is a challenge - particularly when it flatly denies the existence of the labour camps, despite them apparently being visible on Google Earth. However, having been brought up surrounded by deceit, Shin claims he is now determined to be as honest as possible. Only he knows the real truth of that but there are certainly numerous occasions where he paints himself in a much less than favourable light. Shin is certainly no hero - just somebody who survived in a place where even mothers don't trust their own children, and vice versa, each seeing the other as merely an object in the way of their survival. It must also be borne in mind that Shin was not taught a moral code of conduct during his formative years - merely that the 'original sins' of his parents must be atoned for with hard work & that the slightest breach of the rules must be reported to the guards immediately. But then it wasn't until he was in his 20's that somebody so much as "explained the concept of money. He told Shin about the existence of television & computers & mobile phones. He explained that the world was round."

Sat at my laptop, glancing over at my dusty rice cooker - apparently the ultimate status symbol amongst the elite of Pyongyang - it would be impossible to conceive that people could endure such levels of repression for their whole lives, were it not for this remarkable book. It's an incredible story, which comes across as exceptionally honest - it's far too brutal to be anything else. The author & his subject work well together in giving a sense of how such a harsh environment affects the people who live in it. I'm glad that Shin is in a better place now but it's hard to push from my mind the thousands who are still there - after all, he's the only known escapee. We take so very much for granted...

Similar in style & content to Nothing to Envy, Escape From Camp 14 is even more harrowing.
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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There are much better books on North Korea, 14 Aug 2012
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I was very keen to read this book, as the story is unique - the tale of a man born inside a North Korean labour camp, as opposed to being sent there, who then successfully escaped. However, I was disappointed. The author stresses how he interviewed the subject for many, many hours - and yet the story is so thin, padded out with context taken from other books on the subject. I have thought that maybe I've read too many books on North Korea, and perhaps had a skewed view as everything seemed familiar. So, after finishing this book I revisited Hyok Kang's 'This is Paradise!' and once again, found it a profoundly disturbing read. I just feel Escape from Camp 14 was not very well done and having purchased the hardback, the large font helps fill what is not a particularly long read. It's still interesting, and it's a very tragic story - but so average in execution. If you're still going to buy this book, please read other books for comparison - This is Paradise, The Aquariums of Pyongjang, and most importantly, Nothing to Envy. These books give far greater insight and context on life in North Korea in my opinion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable life story, 10 July 2012
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There aren't very many news stories or articles about North Korea, which is considered to be one of the most isolated and restricted countries in the world. It is the first time that I have ever read the memoir of the former North Korean refugee.

Shin was born in the labour camp 14. It is so sad to read that an extremely innocent child was forced to live in the brutal and inhospitable environment where he didn't hear the word of `love' or `sympathy', and he was never celebrated his birthday until he managed to escape to South Korea. Having been brought up in the prisoners' camp, he rarely saw his parents and brother. He was given the education, but he was only given the rudimentary level of education which enabled him to follow the instructions of work. Raising questions or disobeying the teacher did not only get him into trouble but would be liable to be given very harsh punishment or if unlucky, he would be shot immediately. He was forced to do hard labour in the very appealing conditions from the young age and saw a number of fellow pupils or workers died.

The memoir produced by Blaine Harden is very honest and constructive, and it gives the evidence of the brutal school and work environments Shin experienced, how he would have thought of his mother and brother being executed when he was 13, and the way his life and thought would have changed after meeting of less strenuous teacher and Park who told him the life of outside the labour camp and outside of North Korea. Having done scrupulous and through research, he reveals the detailed account of history and politics and discovers the very notorious actions of transferring collections of disaster funds to the North Korea Community Party, which have been happening since 1980s.

I have to say Shin's story is extremely harrowing, hard-going, gripping, and remarkable, and I was very glad and relieved to learn that he survived to the end and read through his life. I do hope that this memoir will help to increase awareness of North Korean's human right's issues to the world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Read, 1 May 2012
By 
Kris (England) - See all my reviews
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I'd heard a lot about this book in both the papers and tv so I was very keen to get my hands on it. I half expected this to be sensationalist, as it is written by a journalist, so I was pleasantly surprised to be reading a truthful yet harrowing account of Shin's life. It would be unnecessary of me to explain the content of this book as that is the idea of the synopsis so my review is more based on the style. The book is built using regular chapters, each which are relevant and follow each other in uniform fashion. I like that the author does not choose to build up cliffhangers and other such devices frequently used by authors: this is simply an account from one man who wants to tell a story. If entertaining is the correct term, then it certainly is, and you do not get the feeling that the author as beefed up the story as the book is relatively short anyway. If I were to have a criticism, it would be that the font size is far too big. It reminds me of books in primary school. Whether this was done to extend the book from what was surely only about 100 pages in length, or whether this is not the final edition (which I would not be able to comment on) I am unsure, but this is largely irrelevant as the story is the most important part and this was fascinating from cover to cover.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The futurist dystopia of Orwell made flesh, 24 April 2012
By 
Mr. M. A. Reed (Argleton, GB) - See all my reviews
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A cruel and unforgiving read. Beneath the surface of almost everything, you'll find the perhaps unglamourous reality. The naked muscle on the end of the fork. The willing blindness of many is unsurprising. As Barbara Bush said, "'Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?'"

In this way, Escape From Camp 14, is essential reading for anyone with an interest or curiousity in the workings of the modern world. With a picture of a dystopian present that could easily be taken from the pages of a futurist author of several decades ago, it shows us a world that frankly is almost beyond imagination.

Only one person has escaped from this world. The bizarre, and frankly incoherently cruel reality of a North Korean workers camp. Here, children are born into slavery and prison. Captured for their lives to atone for the alleged sins of their parents. As a psychological device, it portrays the world as is, with nurture over-riding almost all other factors. If you don't know of something, all you know if that you know. Could you imagine something as glorious as sky if you had never seen it, or even heard it? Would you dare to hope for a cheeseburger, if your only experience of food was rice, water, and lettuce?

The trials of Shin, told without compunction or flair, are shocking in their ceaselessly mundane cruelty. Of parents shot in front of their children for no crime apart from being suspected of knowing of an escape plan. Of not even knowing for years that their parents are next to them. Of not even knowing of the existence of cities. Or television. Of only ever knowing of one other counmtry in the world - America - that wants to destroy North Korea at all costs, as if it were nothing but a single-purposed, unstoppable, political Mothra. Of being kept from this fate (in all probability, somewhat glorious, given that the quality of life in KimJongIlland is so undoubtedly grim), solely by the actions of a heroic, despotic, egocentric but unquestionable, utterly rampant dictator. Oh, it's easy to mock from the comforts of a heated living room, but this is the stuff of dystopian science-fiction and George Orwell. Imagine weeping at the thought of being able to read a newspaper. This is the world of Camp 14.

Written bleakly and without flair, the factual account of this ordeal that is, at this second, subject to millions of humans, is nothing but a punishing experience. Books like this aren't meant to be enjoyed, but endured, and perhaps, Camp 14 is a work that any serious scholar, or curious bystander, of politics needs to undergo to see how easily ideals can become idols and idiots crushing the flowers beneath their feet.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fan-flippin-tastic!!!, 9 April 2014
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Could not put this down. Not only did it give a heartbreaking and emotional account of what it was like being born into a labour camp in communist North Korea. It also gives a historical background to North Korea and the politics and foul play happening there. The stories of torture and murder are horrific and makes you feel very sad to live in this sort of world in 2014. Couldn't recommend it more!
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